THE REGIONAL CHALLENGE

WHAT IT IS

From attracting businesses to ensuring the future of our schools, cultural organizations and civic enterprises, higher education degree attainment creates opportunities for success and growth in our region. The Regional Challenge is an opportunity to let Talent Greater Philly showcase the work of local businesses and higher education institutions dedicated to the educational advancement of Greater Philadelphia’s residents.

HONOREE CATEGORIES

EMPLOYER HONOR
The Talent Greater Philly Regional Challenge Employer Honor recognizes innovative programs or best practices implemented by employers in Greater Philadelphia that focus on advancing their employees’ postsecondary education.

 

HIGHER EDUCATION HONOR
The Talent Greater Philly Regional Challenge Higher Education Honor recognizes innovative programs or best practices implemented by colleges and universities in Greater Philadelphia that focus on increasing student persistence and degree completion.

 

PAST HONOREES

YEAR 1

Business Community Honor: Independence Blue Cross

In 2011, Independence Blue Cross (IBC) and Graduate! Philadelphia launched a formal partnership designed to support the postsecondary enrollment and success of IBC employees interested in completing a two-or four-year college degree. To help employees reach their goals, Graduate! provides a variety of direct services, including onsite individualized college advising and hands-on assistance with securing financial aid.

Through its partnership with Graduate! Philadelphia, IBC employees have single-point access to adult-friendly degree completion programs at local colleges and universities. To date, more than 400 IBC associates have participated in Graduate! Philadelphia advising sessions, workshops, and college connect services. Collectively, these services support IBC associates through a range of matters pertaining to enrolling and succeeding in college. Of the associates who have taken advantage of Graduate! Philadelphia’s services, 11 graduated, 98 are currently enrolled in school, 38 are on track to enroll this academic year, and many others continue to learn about their options by participating in onsite events.

Collaboration Honor: Philadelphia Education Fund

In 2009, the Philadelphia Education Fund launched a comprehensive college access and success initiative for low-income, high-need students.  Designed to build a college-going system and culture at four neighborhood high schools in Philadelphia, the initiative initially targeted the schools’ 1,500 9th and 10th graders. By 2012, college enrollment had increased dramatically among graduating seniors: from 8% in 2010 to 25% 2012 at Kensington Business High; from 22% to 48% at Roxborough High; from 23% to 37% at Kensington CAPA High; and from 35% to 47% Ben Franklin High.

These improvements were the result of sustained collaboration among a core group of multi-sector leaders from the target schools and the School District, community colleges and universities, non-profit organizations, youth-serving community organizations, business and civic groups, and government organizations. This coalition has worked to institutionalize practices within each school designed to improve college completion rates, such as developing a school-wide college readiness culture, mapping and coordinating assets within each school, and involving students and parents in early planning for college.

Higher Education Honor: University of Delaware

The University of Delaware’s Associate in Arts Program (AAP) was established in 2004 as an alternative route to baccalaureate studies on the University’s main Newark campus. The program attracts almost exclusively “traditional,” full-time students who attend courses taught by University faculty at Delaware Technical Community College’s campuses in Wilmington, Dover, and Georgetown. While enrolled, AAP students receive many of the perks of attending a state-supported Research 1 university (such as use of the University’s library and participation in student organizations and activities), while also benefiting from small class sizes, close faculty contact, and additional assistance with math and writing. Since the first year of programming, enrollment has grown 61% – from around 500 students to nearly 860 this year.

AAP also offers students substantially reduced tuition, making it possible for many students to begin their journey towards a bachelor’s degree without the financial burden of full tuition on the Newark campus. And, because all AAP courses simultaneously fulfill core requirements for both the associate and the bachelor’s degrees, all students who earn the associate in arts degree are guaranteed admission to the main Newark campus.


YEAR 2

Higher Education Honor: The Community College of Philadelphia Center for Male Engagement

Community College of Philadelphia’s Center for Male Engagement (CME) was created in 2009 to provide a structure of support, information, encouragement and perseverance for African-American males who are attending college for the first time. CME offers a supportive and private environment where students receive personal, academic and career guidance and learn important life skills, such as time and stress management. CME’s four full-time support coaches are heavily involved in the students’ lives and serve as mentors to the students. They are a source of guidance when it comes to tackling everyday problems and articulating future aspirations.

Although CME is open to all students, its staff focuses efforts on full-time, African-American male students. Program participants must sign a contract to pledge their commitment to attend CME sessions and participate in specific activities, including cultural events, leadership opportunities and mentoring. Through its directed, structured, and community-oriented in- and out-of-class programming, the Center for Male Engagement takes an innovative approach to fostering student success.  CME addresses individual academic needs, learning styles, attitudes, and social and academic backgrounds of students while simultaneously engaging family members as collaborators in students’ academic success.

Business Community Honor, Large Employer: The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) recognizes that encouraging employees to advance their education and skills yields both individual and institutional benefits. CHOP’s Education Assistance Program was created to enable employees to advance both personally and professionally while helping CHOP align workforce needs with institutional business goals.

The Education Assistance Program is an organizational priority supported by policies, practices, governance and funding. The program includes educational advisory and coaching services, tuition reimbursement, scholarship opportunities, and partnerships with local and national colleges and universities. A team of experienced consultants provide one-on-one advising to help employees identify academic interests and goals, create an educational plan, and navigate the financial aid and scholarship landscape. The team also advises employees on how to shorten the time to degree completion by waiving courses based on work experience, prior learning assessments, or internal CHOP training.

CHOP offers tuition assistance to full- and part-time employees for undergraduate and graduate coursework or post-Masters certification programs; scholarships are also available for areas of study that are critical to CHOP’s work. Additionally, CHOP offers employees’ dependents free educational counseling services which help guide families through important decisions such as selecting a college savings plan; navigating the college admissions process; determining the best way to pay for college; and developing strategies for managing existing education debt. In addition to attracting high-quality employees and promoting professional development, the Education Assistance Program helps CHOP reduce costly employee turnover, improve employee productivity, and facilitate institutional succession planning.

Business Community Honor, Small Employer: Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern PA (Ben Franklin) understands that the strength of a great organization lies in its people. Ben Franklin is committed to helping employees pursue their higher education aspirations through flexible work schedules and an Employee Educational Assistance (EEA) program. Developed in the mid-1990s, the EEA program was created to help employees explore opportunities for growth within the organization and support workers who wish to pursue and complete a postsecondary degree.

Each year, Ben Franklin budgets funds for employees’ educational needs (degree and certificate programs) as well as staff development training for the entire organization. The EEA program is reviewed and updated annually to take into consideration the needs of employees, the increasing cost of education, and the changing demands of the organization. In addition to attracting high-quality employees and providing opportunities for personal and professional growth, Ben Franklin’s commitment also serves as a retention tool for the company by helping them to avoid costly turnover.  Ben Franklin is committed to building and retaining talent in Greater Philadelphia through a commitment to employee development and postsecondary degree completion.

Business Community, Innovative Practice Honor: USLI

USLI’s College Help program employs approximately 130 undergraduate students year-round who are currently enrolled in degree programs at two-year and four-year colleges and universities. The goal of the program is to provide meaningful, professional work experiences for undergraduate students, and to reduce their student loans through an established Qualified Educational Assistance program. USLI challenges students and raise expectations by increasing their capacity to do more. College Help participants become a part of USLI’s company DNA. In addition to their work responsibilities, USLI provides professional development classes ranging from presentation skills to financial literacy. For many of the students, this work experience serves as a practical application of and bridge to their academic curriculum.

Leveraging the IRS Code 127, USLI created an Educational Assistance plan for all of their students with deferred student loan debt. Each semester a student accrues tax-free dollars in the form of an educational grant, which is directed tax free to their financial aid offices to prepay their student loans. This plan is mandatory for all students with deferred debt. Over four years, a student could earn up to $21,000 tax-free to repay student loans.

USLI has made a commitment to hire youth and believes it is part of their “secret sauce.” Moreover, they believe that they need to create pathways for recent college graduates to develop into insurance professionals.  The Qualified Educational Assistance plan began in July 2013 to combat, albeit on a small scale, the indebtedness of recent college graduates. Through conversations with new hires, it was clear that student debt was becoming a greater inhibitor to financial independence.  We felt that we could now make a difference with our part-time college students.

Higher Education, Innovative Practice Honor: Peirce College

In 2013, Peirce College, in collaboration with Year Up/Professional Training Corps, launched a unique, holistic partnership to reduce the workforce and degree attainment barriers experienced by 18-24 year-old regional youth from low-income families.  Peirce’s focus has been threefold:  1) provide low-income students the opportunity to gain college credits, 2) create a pathway to degree completion, and 3) help students gain employability skills and relevant work experience.

Peirce’s student population is 51% Pell-eligible and largely dependent on financial aid. Year Up is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to close the opportunity divide by providing urban young adults the skills, experience and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Together, they have developed an innovative, collaborative model designed to educate, retain, and prepare youth so they can transition into the workplace, become economically self-sufficient, and complete a post-secondary education. Through this innovative partnership, thus far, three student cohorts have been actively engaged in a year-long, debt free program delivering two major components.


YEAR 3

Employer Honor: AmeriHealth Caritas

AmeriHealth Caritas developed its Education Assistance and Tuition Reimbursement Program to reduce the financial, scheduling, and geographic constraints that working adults frequently face when pursuing a college degree. The company’s tuition reimbursement program offers $3,500 annually to qualifying, full-time associates and $1,750 to part-time associates toward the cost of tuition for an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Partnerships with Drexel University, Peirce College, and College for America at Southern New Hampshire University have amplified and extended the company’s educational benefits.  Through a collaboration with Drexel University, for example, AmeriHealth Caritas employees can earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree at a 10-40 percent discount off of the regular tuition rate throughout their course of study. Immediate family members are eligible for the same savings. At Peirce College, AmeriHealth Caritas associates have access to a choice of on-campus, on-site, or online classes as well as learning sessions and academic advising specifically tailored to the needs of non-traditional students.

Employer Collaboration: District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund

In 2004, District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund and Philadelphia University began a partnership to help entry-level workers earn stackable credentials in the behavioral healthcare field. The program’s design supports student retention and helps incumbent workers advance along the college-to-career pipeline in an accelerated timeframe. District 1199C offers union members upfront tuition assistance of up to $5,000 annually, and students receive counseling and coaching services throughout the duration of their studies.

Students entering the program begin with a behavioral health technician training course operated by District 1199C and then progress to Philadelphia University where they can earn a certificate in behavioral health, an associate’s degree in health and human services, a bachelor’s degree in behavioral health, and a master’s degree in trauma counseling. Since the program’s inception in 2004, Philadelphia University has awarded seventy-seven associate’s degrees, seventeen bachelor’s degrees, and one master’s degree to participating students.

Higher Education Honor: Rowan University

In 2011, Rowan University created the “Completion Toolbox,” a bevy of programs and policies designed to help students in the later stages of their degree programs to persist in and complete their postsecondary education. Rowan designed the toolbox to ameliorate two dubious distinctions: (1) New Jersey exports more college students than any other state, and (2) bachelor’s degree rates in southern New Jersey are one-third lower than in the rest of the state.

Through reenrollment reforms, transfer credit policies, flexible scheduling, prior learning assessments, and degree audits – among many other initiatives – the university has improved retention, reduced stop-outs, and shortened graduation timelines, particularly among its Pell-eligible, first-generation, and minority students. One policy, for example, has streamlined the reenrollment process for students with gaps in matriculation, moving the function from the Admissions Office to the Retention Office and yielding a 57 percent increase in the number of students seeking to reenroll.

Higher Education Collaboration: Summer Search Philadelphia

In operation in the city since 2006, Summer Search Philadelphia equips low-income, first-generation college students with the life skills, experiences, and supports needed to access college and complete a degree. Summer Search’s long-term investment in students begins during the sophomore year of high school, when teachers and guidance counselors from five Philadelphia public and charter high schools can recommend students for the program.

The five-part Summer Search model provides students with (1) year-round, one-to-one mentoring during high school; (2) full scholarships to participate in two summer enrichment experiences; (3) individualized college access services; (4) college and career mentoring up to six years after high school graduation; and (5) access to a strong alumni network. Summer Search Philadelphia now serves 200 area students, and 71% of the program’s high school graduates have earned a four-year degree or are on track to do so.

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